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Sitting down with Paul Vance


Jaguars Senior Vice President of Football Operations/General Counsel Paul Vance (pictured left) is one of 14 current staff members who joined the franchise in 1994. Vance began his tenure with the Jaguars as general counsel before taking over the Jaguars' salary cap strategy and player contract negotiations. He spent time this week with to discuss his role with the Jaguars, overseeing the salary cap in 2001 and when he expects to begin the process of signing the 2009 draft picks.

You graduated from Columbia in 1973 and immediately went into private practice. Did you have any idea you would be working for a sports team some 30 years later?

"When I started practicing law most teams didn't have general counsel. The business of sports has changed dramatically since 1973. The salary cap, collective bargaining agreement and free agency have all added huge elements to it. In 1973 a player would go in and sit down with Art Rooney (Steelers former owner) and Art would say, 'I am going to pay you this.' It's different now. We have had a salary cap for 15 years and you would think that is the entire history but it's certainly not. At a time when individual tax rates went to ninety percent, I remember the first time Mickey Mantle made $100,000. It's a different world."

*You grew up in Buffalo and went to school at the University of Rochester. You played baseball and basketball in college. Were you always into sports? *

"I would say I was always interested in sports, but I was more participatory. We didn't have the internet. You had a daily newspaper. If you were in Buffalo or Rochester and let's say you followed the Red Sox and they played on the west coast, if it wasn't in the paper the next day then you had no way to find out what the score was unless you happened to catch it on the radio at the right time. They didn't have sports talk. I had a friend in Buffalo who was a Detroit Tigers fan and Buffalo never talked about the Tigers. You were lucky to get a Yankees score. It was harder to be a fanatic. There was one baseball game on a week and you saw the Cleveland Browns 14 games a year and nothing else."

*How different is it negotiating a contract with a draft pick and a veteran free agent? *

"In terms of the second through seventh round picks, those have parameters and things don't change that much from year to year. There might be a year where there may or may not be an increase to the salary cap but how they're done doesn't change that much. In terms of the first round, it makes a big difference where you are in the round."

*For a free agent? *

"There are two elements. Before we ever start on the phone, we as an organization have to have a clear idea of what we're willing to do. That is not just dollars but the structure we are willing to do. The first thing when we get on the phone is to get an idea of whether the person is in your ballpark. If not, you move on. You are probably not just preparing for one guy. If you are in the ballpark then I try to listen and determine what's important to him. If I can determine what's important to him then I can determine what is not important to him. This helps you to work around other aspects of the deal."

*Do you enjoy the negotiating part of your job? *

"I think it's a challenge. There are little puzzles to work out. When people think of a negotiation and they have never done it, the first thing they think of is buying a car, posturing. In my view posturing in this context is not a positive. You need to do your research, have some background of where you are and why you are there."

*You are one of 14 current staff members who joined the franchise in 1994. Talk about those earlier years. Did you realize how much work had to be done? *

"We had no idea. We were awarded the franchise on November 30 and we knew we had to build a stadium. We hadn't started the construction contract by December 1, but we had to start construction on January 1. Wayne (Weaver) asked me to come down and be general counsel. We sat around and thought maybe this is just a half-time job and the other half I would practice law with a firm in town. From day one it became overwhelming. It was not only full-time but it was 20 hours a day for the first year or so. We weren't even playing games, just trying to get everything done, getting the stadium built and all the other relationships in place and documented."

*In 2001, you took over the responsibility of managing the club's salary cap. You started at a time when the franchise had several major issues to overcome with the cap. Talk about that experience. *

"Not only did I have no idea what I was doing, I was learning as I was doing it and we had some significant challenges. First we had to develop the tools to figure out what was there. Then I had to meet with Tom (Coughlin) and quickly bring him up to speed on the issues. He said he could spare 20 minutes (it was the middle of the season) but he sat there and realized what the problem was in 20 minutes. He spent two hours and then went home that night and came back the next morning and wanted me to show it to him again. There was never an outcry from Tom of, 'How did we get here? Whose fault is this?' It was more, 'We have a problem. I would rather be coaching but I know I have to spend some time with this.' It demonstrates a lot about his character and the sophistication of how he approaches challenges, for him to say, 'Here's another barrier to my success and I have to really work at this. This is why we are here and I want to make sure it's right and understand it.' He got that done in two hours. Then it was, 'How do we solve it? What are the alternatives? What do we need to be thinking about when we evaluate all these different alternatives?'"

*Did this all happen relatively quickly? *

"It happened very abruptly. My concern in taking it on at the time was my lack of direct experience, and also I wanted to make sure that Tom Coughlin, who was the head coach and general manager, was in favor of me taking on this role. I met with Tom to discuss this and he was very supportive of me doing it. I did ask him if he had any reservations, and as you can imagine if you know Tom, he was very forthright. He said his only reservation was whether I would be able to 'pull the trigger' as he put it, when it was necessary to get a deal done. In our discussions it became clear; that he meant, 'Would I do what was necessary to close a deal, or spend too much time considering all the alternatives (and thereby miss out on the chance to get it done)?' I think this discussion with Tom was very important in helping me adjust from the role of legal advisor to that of a deal maker."

*This was a completely different role for you and you were faced with a difficult task. How did you find a solution in such a short period of time? *

"This was a different role and not an area that I had any exposure to, even though I had been general counsel for eight years. However, Wayne asked me to do it and said that he had confidence that I could pick it up. I had made another transition when I moved from private practice to being general counsel, where all of a sudden I was now responsible for trademarks, intellectual property, litigation, and other aspects with which I had no prior experience. But having gone through that I had more confidence that I could transition to the football side, even if it meant I would have to "brute force" the learning to some extent. Within that first week, Tim Walsh and I started to develop a model that would allow us to know where we stood on the cap and also to test different changes in a dynamic rather than a static way. Tim was able to create this modeling tool quite quickly and with that we were now able to recognize what the problem was and within a week we had delineated every alternative. There were a limited number of alternatives. We spent a lot of time looking at everything we could do. We could have gone back and tried to redo everybody's contract and pay them a lot of cash and spread it out like a lot of teams did. If we did that then we were just going to be worse off the next year. Or because it happened to be the year Houston was coming in, we could try and move some of these guys in the expansion draft. We identified those two alternatives in the first week or 10 days. We looked at a hundred other things and none of those worked. Tom had been through this process and was on board and understood it. The identification of the problem was the biggest contribution. Then Wayne, Tom and I sat around and worked on how to solve it."

*The public appears to be much more knowledgeable about the salary cap and what players are earning. *

"When we (and some other teams) had the salary cap issue, it seemed to get a great deal of attention from the fans and media. Apparently it is interesting enough that people learned about it. In reality, the cap itself and a lot of the manipulations that teams previously tried to do to create more cap room have become less important. The reason is that the salary cap has gone up so much that many of the small market teams do not have the cash flow to consistently overspend the cap."

*There have been several draft picks already signed from other teams. How early do you prefer to get started with the process of signing draft picks? *

"We have found that a lot of agents don't want to get started early. In the past, we have tried to start early but the last two years or so we have said we will give it a couple of weeks into June and then get going."

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